The ongoing crisis in South Sudan has driven more than 1,000,000 South Sudanese refugees into nearby countries, especially northern Uganda, where they are most numerous. These large groups of displaced persons may present a source of pressure (either real or perceived) upon their host communities. There are currently large communities of South Sudanese and Ugandans living side by side but there is little contact between the two groups. At the same time, the South Sudanese refugees are themselves divided by the same tribal allegiances and intercommunal hostilities which characterized the conflict before they left their home country. This creates a potentially volatile situation that could be inflamed or ignited by the spread of rumours and misinformation.
As evidenced by the Sentinel Project’s work in Kenya and Myanmar, incendiary rumours and misinformation circulating among conflict-affected communities often contribute to further instability by encouraging an atmosphere of distrust, fear, and hatred between rival social groups (e.g. tribal or religious communities), which can trigger violence. Such potential misinformation often spreads through simple word-of-mouth among close-knit communities as well as by telecommunications such as voice calls and SMS (text messages) and increasingly on social media and websites.
The situation in Uganda is exacerbated by a lack of access to reliable information among refugees and has the potential to increase instability along three axes – between South Sudanese ethnic groups living in Uganda, incidents (actual or alleged) in South Sudan which raise intercommunal tensions among refugees (and vice versa), and between South Sudanese refugees and Ugandan host communities.